Topps

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I wrote this on my old Shysterball blog back in 2007. Sorry for the re-run, but (a) it’s Christmas and I have better things to be doing this morning than blogging; and (b) only a handful of people read Shysterball back in the day, so I’m sure most of you haven’t seen this anyway.  Either way, I think it holds up.  Merry Christmas, everyone.

 

My brother lives in San Diego and I live in Ohio, so I maybe see him twice a year. It’s been that way since he left home for the Navy the day after Thanksgiving eighteen years ago. I was sixteen then. I finished my last two years of high school, went on to college and law school, got married, had kids, and settled down in the Midwest. He spent six years on an Aegis cruiser, a couple more at Coronado, and took his discharge in 1997. Since then he has worked as a club DJ, dipped a toe in and then back out of the goth scene, spent time with a number of shady women before meeting a nice one, played Kato Kaelin to the lead singer of a notable synth-pop band, and most recently has performed product preparation and distribution services for a large Irvine, California-based concern. That’s him in the picture to the right, taken when we crashed the club level restaurant at Petco Park back in 2007.

In terms of distance, Curt and I haven’t lived within 500 miles of one another since he left home. By all other measures we haven’t been in the same solar system since then. We get along just fine and talk on the phone regularly, but if we weren’t brothers our adult paths would probably never cross. We live in wildly different worlds, speak wildly different languages, and pass the time doing wildly different things. I love him unconditionally, but we tend to get on each others’ nerves from time to time, and neither of us truly understands where in the hell the other is coming from.

But it wasn’t always that way. We were close as kids, with a lot of common interests, the most notable among them being baseball. We were both huge Tigers’ fans (his favorite player was Lou Whitaker; mine was Alan Trammell). We played on little league teams together for a while (he being the talented but uninterested one, I the exact opposite). But more than watching or playing the game itself, it was our love of baseball cards that brought us together as kids.

It started with the cutouts on the back of Hostess boxes in 1976 or 1977, and moved on to the Kellogg’s 3-D superstars a year or two later. In those days Dad worked with a guy who split his time as a card dealer, and once he saw how crazy we were about the things, cards just started showing up around the house. We’d go over to his house and trade for some. Or we’d buy some from him at highly discounted rates. I suspect a lot of them were just given to us per some arrangement between Lloyd and my dad. Between that kind of thing and the traditional spend-every-penny-we-ever-saw-on-wax-packs approach, by the mid-80s we had tens of thousands of cards spilling out of boxes in every spare corner of the house.

As is the case with just about every kid, however, our interest in cards waned as our interest in girls waxed. Even if it hadn’t, the hyper-commercialization of baseball cards in the late 80s would have done it anyway (we hoarded, sorted, traded, and oggled cards like mad, but I can’t recall a single instance in which we ever sold one). By the time Curt shipped out, they had been placed in plastic sheets or monster boxes in the basement and, while not forgotten, certainly not thought about all that much. Over the years, as my parents’ addresses became increasingly erratic and mine more permanent, the cards migrated to my basement where they currently sit and are rarely disturbed. In the past couple of years Curt has asked me to ship him certain cards from our communal stash as he began dabbling in hockey cards and was in need of trade bait, but other than that I’ve had no real cause to go through them. Hell, the last inventory of them was typed up using the Speedscript word processor on my Commodore 64.

Last week, Curt flew in from San Diego for a couple of days for his annual Christmas visit. The night before he flew back home, we exchanged Christmas gifts. We tend to be a family who doesn’t go over the top with these things, so I was understandably dumbfounded when I opened my gift from him: the entire 1973 Topps set (my birth year) in plastic sheets in a notebook. With a couple of very tiny exceptions, the whole thing is in mint or near mint condition.

He didn’t just go out and buy it in one shot, though, as a guy working at In-n-Out Burger tends not to have that kind of money laying around. Rather, he began picking up stuff here and there months ago (our childhood collection had almost no 1973s), trading some import records for some of this, trading vintage clothing for some of that, and only biting the bullet and straight-up buying stuff in only a handful of cases. It was truly a labor of love on his part which, given how much flak I’ve given him for so many things over the years — including, ironically enough, his habit for hording, selling, and trading records and vintage clothes when he could be out doing something more productive — was every bit as undeserved as it was unexpected.

As I sit here this evening poring over the notebook full of ’73s — highlights of which, at the risk of invading Josh Wilker’s turf, I plan to blog in the next couple of days* — I’m wondering why someone from whom I’ve grown so far apart over the years would make such a thoughtful and touching gesture, especially given how hard I’ve been on him. But I suppose that’s Christmas. I suppose that’s family. I suppose, most of all, that’s Curt.

Thanks, bro.

*I did, in fact, blog the 1973 set a few days later. It may be the most unintentionally hilarious baseball card set of all time.

Kolten Wong lashes out after losing his starting role with the Cardinals

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Kolten Wong is no longer the only second baseman being considered for a starting role on the Cardinals’ roster, and he’s not happy about it. On Saturday, GM John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny hinted that Wong could lose playing time to Jedd Gyorko or Greg Garcia in 2017 — in other words, an infielder who brings a little more pop at the plate. Prior to the Cardinals’ game against the Marlins on Sunday, Wong gave his heated response to the media. Via Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

I don’t think you give somebody a contract for no reason,” Wong said. “When you are given a contract, you are expected to get a chance to work through some things and figure yourself out. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, all these guys never figured their stuff out until later on down the road. It’s the big leagues. It’s tough, man. For me, the biggest thing is I just need people to have my back. When that comes, it will be good. But, I think right now, it’s just staying with my play, understanding I’m working toward getting myself more consistent, understanding what kind of player I can be. If that’s going to be with another team, so be it.

When pressed, Wong said that he would rather be traded away from St. Louis than step into a limited role with the team. “I don’t want to be here wasting my time,” he told the press. “I know what kind of player I am. If I don’t have the belief here, then I’ll go somewhere else.” The 26-year-old was inked to a five-year, $25.5 million extension prior to the 2016 season, complete with a $12.5 million option and $1 million buyout.

Part of Wong’s frustration stems from the Cardinals’ backtracking on their stated commitment to him as their starting second baseman last winter. Mozeliak admitted that while Wong had the defensive tools necessary to hold down the position, he failed to impress at the plate. It’s an argument that Wong hasn’t been able to rebut this spring, going 8-for-44 with two extra bases and 10 strikeouts in camp. He hasn’t looked much better in the regular season, sustaining a career .248/.309/.370 batting line with a .678 OPS and 5.1 fWAR over four years with the organization.

Still, the second baseman feels that he should have been given some heads up that he was playing to keep his starting role this spring, admitting that he entered camp with the mentality of someone who had a guaranteed spot on the Cardinals’ roster and not someone whose job security was dependent on his day-to-day results. “I need the time to consistently figure out how to be me and succeed at this level,” said Wong. “Everybody goes through it. Not everybody is Mike Trout.”

The Tigers are trying to convert Anthony Gose into a pitcher

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Tigers’ center fielder Anthony Gose wants to try his hand at pitching, according to comments made by manager Brad Ausmus on Sunday. Gose is poised to start the year in Triple-A Toledo after receiving a midseason demotion to Double-A last summer following an altercation with Triple-A manager Lloyd McClendon.

While the experiment won’t detract from Gose’s outfield work in Triple-A, the 26-year-old is expected to take on additional bullpen sessions throughout the year. According to MLB.com’s Jason Beck, the left-handed hitter last took the mound in high school, where his fastball was clocked as fast as 97 m.p.h. Gose ultimately rejected the idea of starting his professional career as a pitcher, despite receiving favorable assessments from scouts.

Ausmus said the idea first surfaced at the end of the 2016 season. It appears to be a fallback option for the outfielder, who has struggled at the plate over his five-year career in the majors. Via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News:

Doolittle in Oakland did it and he was in the big leagues a couple of years later,” Ausmus said. “It’s going to take some time. He’s going to have to be a sponge and catch up on experience fast. But we feel it’s worth investigating.